Eighteen-year-olds Should Vote, but Most are Uninformed
By Gail Gustavson, age 18
This past September I turned 18. I don’t feel older, as I’m still in high school, but turning 18 means I’m an adult by the nation’s standards. I can buy cigarettes, get married, be tried in court as an adult, join the military, etc. These new rights are all pretty clear, except one—voting.
I can vote this November, but to be honest I have no idea how. How can I determine who I want to represent me and my community when I don’t pay property taxes, worry about retirement funds, or pay insurance? I am still very much dependent on my parents, and I will be until I’m probably almost out of college. I want to have a voice, but I just don’t have the experience necessary to know what’s going to benefit me in the world of politics.
Eighteen-year olds all around the country face the same problem— how can we be informed voters when we don’t know many of the real-world situations that we’re voting for?
First of all, campaign ads seem to tell me nothing valuable. What I see are ads that only try to destroy the reputation of an opponent. They accuse their opponents about things that happened in the past…what is this supposed to inform voters of? Political ads are frustrating and confusing, and probably not just to me. This mudslinging is one of the aspects of politics that leave me at a loss for words.
The 26th Amendment granted 18-year-olds the right to vote in 1971. In 1972 well over 50 percent of 18-24 year olds turned out to vote, probably because of strong opinions about the Vietnam War. This age group obviously felt very impacted by the war, and this encouraged them to voice their opinion. In 2000 only 42 percent of eligible voters in this age group voted.
I think I know why voter turnout seems to be declining in the younger age group. Politics, without a basic knowledge of how the economy and government works, can be incredibly confusing and oftentimes leave inexperienced voters disillusioned.
The influences of family, friends, teachers, mentors, and the politicians themselves affect decisions made by an 18-year-old voter, whether the information is biased or not. Although those older than us may seem more knowledgeable about their opinions, many voters seem to stick with the same party every year, simply because that is what they have done in the past and even because it is the easier thing to do.
For this reason, I think younger voters should also try to do individual research for information.
Our voices are important. Younger voters might have different perspectives on things like the environment, education policy, and things that will affect us in the future like social security. We need someone to help us voice our opinions just as much as the rest of the population, and we should be able to think for ourselves about which politician best represents us.
There are shocking statistics that show how little high school students may know about our history and our present-day government.
According to statistics from statepress.com, in Arizona students took a 10-question quiz that was a “mini replication of the U.S. Citizenship Test” administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Out of the 1,134 Arizona public school students who completed the survey, “not a single one answered more than seven questions correctly.” Arizona high school students were recorded at a failure rate far exceeding 96 percent.
I hope that by the time elections come around this November, all the new voters will have put some time and effort into knowing what they are voting for.
Gail is a senior at Notre Dame de la Baie Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Her article previously appeared in her school's newspaper, The Tritonian, and on the My High School Journalism National Edition website.